party in your mouth

What was your all-time favorite snack when you were a kid? Did you eat a ton of Chips Ahoy cookies? Oreos? (and let me clarify – it’s totally a-ok to still consider these your favorites.) Twizzlers? How about some Combos? Oh, those were the days – I chose the ones in the green bordered bag. And man, I used to swoon over Bugles, so much so that I ate AN ENTIRE BOX of them in one sitting, which subsequently led to hours of stomach pain. Haven’t really dug them since…

After the Bugles craze, I moved on to Chex Mix. I could have probably eaten the entire blue and white bag of crunchiness all at once, too, but I learned from my mistakes. I just ate most of it. The little bagel chips were my favorite. And don’t tell anyone, but I always left the rye chips in the bag…so if you were always wondering why your Chex Mix had an obscene amount of rye chips, well, now you know.

That said, I have never actually made Chex Mix, unless you count Puppy Chow as a version of it, but I’m guessing that’s a no. I’ve had a box each of rice and corn chex in my pantry since Thanksgiving (unopened, duh.) and never really felt the need to do anything with them but let them take up space. And then, the date of our Paso Robles road trip with Liz & Kevin approached. As if it was meant to be, I came across a recipe for an ultra-spicy version of chex mix on Pinterest. Ah, Pinterest.

I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one – these mo-fos are SPICY! And this comes from someone who orders their curry dishes “Thai hot” and is rarely satisfied with that. Think about the spiciness of these as being up there with the “fire” or “atomic” versions of wing sauce. Or close, at least – I’d probably add a little more Sriracha next time around… but that’s just me. I like to live on the edge.

I like the idea of a party in my mouth. And I don’t mean that to be taken the wrong way, so stop the nonsense.

Sriracha Chex Mix
adapted, barely, from Taste for Adventure via Pinterest; makes 10 cups

time commitment: 1 hour and 10 minutes (most inactive)

printable version

ingredients
3 c Corn Chex
3 c Rice Chex
1 1/2 c pretzels
1 1/2 c wasabi peas
1 c peanuts
1/4 c butter
1/4 c Sriracha
2 T soy sauce
1 t ginger, grated
1 t garlic, minced

instructions
Preheat oven to 250 F. Mix all the solid ingredients together.
Mix all the liquid ingredients together. Add ginger and garlic. Microwave to melt butter and warm the mixture. Pour the sauce over the cereal mixture and toss to evenly coat.
Bake at 250 for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes or so until crunchy and flavorful.
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Naan Better

It seems that all the different parts of the world have their own kinda bread. There’s the Irish soda bread – of which I’ve seen about 10-thousand different variations, the eggy, perfect-in-French-toast Jewish challah bread in its pretty twists and braids, the ones that come in loaves at the steakhouses – the so-called Russian black bread, and even sourdough, born and bred (pun intended) in the Bay area (well, not really, but synonymous with SF in the least).

You’ve got your French baguettes, your Italian panettones, and a favorite of mine, cornbread – which to me is from the South, though apparently Northerners try to make it too.

Of course, the lesser knowns include Ethiopian injera which is pancake/crepe-like and a favorite of mine, Indian naan. Some people liken naan to Middle Eastern pita bread, but those people are what I’d call “the crazies”; naan is by far better than any pita bread I’ve ever had.

Plus, I hadn’t made any bread in a while, and as a result I’ve been wondering what sort of yeasted product I might try my hand at next. I’d been planning on making some homemade burger buns, but those wouldn’t go nearly as well with the Indian-spiced short ribs braising away in the oven as a few pieces of naan would, wouldn’t you agree? (More on those later, promise.)

As a bonus, I’ve really taken a liking to freezing half of any bread recipe I make, so the thought of having some of this lovliness hanging around in my freezer was a temptation I couldn’t resist.

The key to perfect naan is rolling the little pieces of dough out as thinly as possible. And seriously – fatty naan won’t be nasty, but you won’t get those bubbles that are so characteristic of the naan you see in restaurants, and the texture will be a bit off, a bit spongy, and maybe at that point a little bit like pita bread.

And contrary to what I told Brook when he and Katherine were over for dinner, you really can eat piece of naan after piece of naan with salads, by themselves, or quite frankly, however you damn well please. Although, truthfully, there is nothing better than dipping warm, sea-salt-sprinkled naan into a reduced Indian-spiced braising sauce. It’s worth the wait for dinner, no doubt.

Got a favorite bread? I’m feeling an urge to make more ….

Also, a vacay post will be right around the corner – I hope!

Garlic Naan
Adapted from allrecipes.com; makes 14-16 pieces

printable version

ingredients
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 c warm water
1/4 c white sugar
3 T skim milk
1 egg, beaten
2 t kosher salt
4- 4.5 c bread flour
1 T minced garlic
1/4 c butter, melted
sea salt

instructions
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand about 10 minutes, until frothy. Stir in sugar, milk, egg, salt, and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until smooth. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray or oiled, cover with a damp cloth, and set aside to rise. Let it rise 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

Punch down dough, and knead in garlic. Pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into balls, and place on a tray. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

During the second rising, preheat grill to high heat.

Roll one ball of dough out into a thin circle (the thinner, the better and more bubbly your naan will be). Lightly spray/oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with butter, and turn over. Brush cooked side with butter, and cook until browned, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from grill, sprinkle with sea salt and continue the process until all the naan has been prepared.

you can also freeze your naan dough. after the garlice has been added, place dough in a plastic bag sprayed with oil and freeze. when ready to use again, remove and let thaw in the fridge. continue as directed above.

Watch Out Bobby, it’s Time to Grill it

Emily and her corn


There aren’t too many things, in my mind, that are better than the weeks before summer. Well, summer itself, of course. But the weeks before, the days when the sun finally comes out from winter hibernation and the coats stay home, are the best. They’re the best because it’s those days that get you amped-up and ready for all things to come.


Things like grilling, the beach, and visiting friends and family. If you’re lucky, having them visit you too. For the second year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Hilton Head and were happily able to accomplish all three of the above. It’s a nice treat for me since moving to Chicago, as the “beaches” here just aren’t the same as those where I grew up and spent practically every weekend. Vacations get cut short when you’ve gotta get back to the city to get your cook on, but nonethless we managed to kick back and relax, soak up some rays, log-in some family time, and of course – eat like it didn’t matter.


Atlantic sky


Red Fish is our favorite restaurant on the island (not that we’ve been to many, but why bother?), and we definitely voted for a re-visit this year. Their specialty, as if their name didn’t give it away, is fish. Most dishes have a Caribbean-type influence. To top it off, they have an excellent wine selection and mini wine shop in-house. I was really jealous of the sea bass dish last year (not that mine was bad by any stretch, though now I don’t recall what that dish was), and so this year I had to have it. Stay tuned for the post when I learn to perfect the recipe. But don’t hold your breath.


avocado relish


While the dinner at Red Fish and the brunch at Signe’s were both delectable, I didn’t pass up the offer to cook while on vacation. We usually celebrate my mother in law’s birthday over this trip, so I was asked to make dinner for that night. And this year, this was a big one for her, so I was more than happy to cook and let her enjoy the grandkids. Since we’d already eaten seafood, I opted for another fresh, summery idea and made a marinated flank steak with avocado relish, allowing us to take advantage of fresh cool ingredients and the poolside grill. Plus, the guys felt as if they contributed since they got to do the grilling, which Chris claims is “his territory”. I say, “no fair” ’cause I like grilling too.

grilled corn and peppers


Dinner was a hit, with the grown-ups and (as you can see) the kids. While packed with flavor, this dish is super simple to put together – which is great if you’re in a new (and less-stocked with things like your favorite chef’s knife, microplane zester, and bamboo butcher block – thank you rubber stopper) kitchen. The avocado relish was a perfect counterpart to the flank steak, which was juicy, tender, and had the faintest taste of lime and avocado from the rub/marinade. The relish is great for leftovers, and can stand in for salsa any day. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea to make extra. What about the peppers, you say? They were just dandy. Roasted over the stovetop (for ease – they’d be just as great roasted in the oven or on the grill), peeled, cut, and sauteed in cilantro butter. Corn? Painted w/ lime juice, avocado oil and grilled and served with more melted cilantro butter.


And vacation? Not bad either! As all of them, just a wee bit too short. But given my inability to correctly apply sunscreen, I think another day at the beach would not have been wise for me anyway… Take home message – don’t forget your neck, unless you want to be a poser red-neck. tee hee hee.


grilled flank steak


Grilled Flank Steak w/ Avocado Relish
Adapted from Cooking Light, May 2009; serves 4




ingredients
lime rind from 2-3 limes, divided
4 t avocado oil
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 1lb flank steak
2 avocados, peeled & medium-diced
2-3 plum tomatoes, juiced & medium-diced
1/4 cup medium-diced red onion
1 small-diced jalepeno, seeded if you don’t like the heat
juice of one lime
2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for garnish


instructions
1. Combine 2/3 of lime rind through garlic in small bowl. Score a diamond-shaped pattern on both sides of steak and rub mixture onto both sides. Place in large zip-lock bag or bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.



2. Preheat grill to med-hi. Grill on each side for about 5 minutes (for medium-rare). Let sit about 5 minutes and cut in small slices, across the grain.


3. Meanwhile, combine avocados through cilantro as well as remaining 1/3 of rind. Season to taste. Serve with grilled steak and lime wedges.

Building Mussels without Breakin’ a Sweat

thai green curry ingredients


We took our cats in for their annual vet visit a couple of weeks ago. And although my cat has always been on the larger side, she’s never been officially classified as fat. Well, not until this visit. We’d tried portioning out their food for the past year to avoid the inevitable weight gain, but we began to notice that my cat would eat not only her portion, but also the portion of her smaller, more timid sister. Two things wrong with that picture: my cat continues to eat too much, and the other cat doesn’t eat at all. Both will lead to poor outcomes…



So anyway, after pondering various ideas, we came to a solution that will avoid both of the former scenarios. We’d feed the “non-fat” cat on the counter, since she can jump up with ease and the “fat” cat can’t, and we’d switch my cat to canned food to easily portion it out and guarantee that the other cat won’t eat it, since she refuses canned food. In trying out various brands of canned food, I’ve realized a thing or two. Some of them are true delicacies, especially for a cat! One kind I bought her was called “Savory salmon w/ lentils & ginger”. I mean, c’mon. It’s no wonder she didn’t like it. And after trying 5 different brands, I’ve come to the conclusion that she, like me, has turned into a Whole Foods snob! Their brand was the only one she ate every flavor of, and the only one she ate with pure excitement. Some, despite her normal tendency to eat all things in sight, were left untouched – overnight. Who would have thought a cat would be able to pick out organic cat food. Fortunately, their foods, unlike human food, are not too much more expensive than the brands at Petsmart.

tange & sasha

And so, in my attempt to find tasty, nutritious, balanced food for my cat, I also went on a mission to find ingredients for my weekend meals. Once I got over the fact that my cat and I now shop at the same store, I was then faced with the frustration of the WF move. The WF I normally buy groceries from is expanding and jumping a block south next month, so finding all ingredients I need at one store was like finding pizza in Chinatown. But no worries, because Dirk’s Seafood was just around the corner, and I knew they’d have the final ingredient on my list, mussels. Oh, I do love mussels.

And, I love curry, and Thai food in general, so a Thai version of clam chowder with mussels instead of clams was right on par with something I’d cook.


mussels in curry broth



The last dish I made with curry is one of my very favorites. Plus, I’d been on a break from coconut since early April, and I was ready to bring it back into my life.

I did make some changes to the original recipe. I’d gone to an Asian grocery a while back and stocked up on some hard-to-find ingredients, so I had Kaffir lime leaves and thai chiles in the freezer. I still added more lime flavor. I’m sure if you can’t find Kaffir lime leaves you could leave them out, but they do add a lot of Thai-ness to the dish. Actual kaffir limes look a lot like regular limes but are sort of bumpy, and they’re smaller. The leaves look like two leaves stuck together. And thai chilies can be bought in little bags with tons in one bag. They both freeze well and last a long time. The ones I had in the freezer are over a year old and are just as fragrant as when I bought them. Also, the recipe called for scallops, and that didn’t seem as good as more shrimp to me. So I doubled the shrimp and took out the scallops. And last, the recipe had no ginger! So I added some.


seafood with thai green curry


I tell you, straight up, this is one of the easiest dishes I’ve made in a long time. It’s full of veggies, seafood, and exotic, complex flavors. It’s actually healthy, although it looks too creamy to be low-fat. But it is. People get real excited about mussels, and the fact of the matter is that they really are a piece of cake to prepare. You literally dump them in a pot and close the lid. Voila. That being said, this recipe would be a true crowd-pleaser and a sure thing for company. And for those with dietary issues – gluten & dairy-free. Need I say more?

green curry broth

Thai Green Curry w/ Seafood
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009; Serves 4


printable recipe

ingredients
2 T unrefined peanut oil (could use standard refined but will not be as robust)
5 green onions, chopped, dark green parts separated from white and pale green parts
3 T minced fresh cilantro, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 T Thai green curry paste
1 1/4 cups water
1 can coconut milk (light works just fine)
2 red Thai chilies (or 1 red jalepeno chile)
2 kaffir lime leaves (or 2 T lime juice + 1 t zest)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
1 t fresh grated ginger
1 T fish sauce (Thai kitchen brand is gluten free)
1 large carrot, peeled, thinly cut diagonally
4 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1 lb uncooked medium shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 lb green or black mussels, scrubbed, debearded
2 T chopped fresh basil
2 cups cooked white arborio rice

instructions

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add white & pale green onion parts, 1 T cilantro, and garlic; saute until tender, about 2 minutes.


2. Add curry paste; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add water, coconut milk, chiles, lime leaves, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, and fish sauce. Bring to simmer. Add carrot; cover and cook until carrot is just tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Layer bok choy, shrimp & mussels in pan. Cover & simmer until mussels open and shrimp & bok choy are cooked, about 5 minutes.

4. Stir in dark green parts of onions, 2 T remaining cilantro, and basil.

5. Divide rice among 4 bowls. Ladle curry mixture over rice & serve.

How ’bout some Artichoke in your Hash

flank steak with aleppo pepper aioli


There is nothing like a Sunday without a list of to-do’s. I’d finished my homework yesterday, so Sunday was all mine (aside from weekly laundry) – which meant I got to make lunch and prepare a non-weeknight-dinner. I always try to cook something pretty hefty on Sunday, so we’ll have enough to last a couple of days for lunch. Since I wasn’t able to cook much last week cause of my birthday (well… and class of course), I turned into a cookin’ machine today. Fortunately, for the sake of my pants fitting, I did not bake the pumpkin biscuits as I’d planned. (but I think I cancelled that out with a piece of red velvet cake that jennifer made for my bday…. oh well. There is NO dieting in culinary school. None.)

aioli and steak rub

With tons of enthusiasm regarding my dinner plans, I hopped up out of bed and headed to the grocery store (and back!) before noon. If you know me, you know that THAT never happens. I am very much a sleep till 10, eat, drink coffee, and watch Food Network or DVR’d shows until 1-ish person. What made getting up and home before lunch possible was practically rolling out of bed, brushing my teeth, and quickly changing into the clothes on the floor (yep – no shower, no hair-brushing, and no coffee – Peets is right next to Whole Foods). And who needed a shower anyway, the storm outside was shower enough.

flank steak rub



I didn’t take any pictures at lunch, but I made roasted corn and goat cheese quesadillas. They were pretty good, and perfect for lunch. For dinner, I’d decided to make another meal from my recipe stack. The recipe itself was loooong and was rather intimidating, but it turned out to be pretty easy and really yummy. I think it was the artichokes that frightened me a bit. I have never cooked with artichokes. I always thought they were a little too funny lookin’ and was never willing to give them a chance. Anything that looks like brussel sprouts has potential to remain on the shelf and never get its foot (or any other part of itself) into my kitchen, and since they are green and round, they (artichokes) look like them (brussel sprouts). Once I realized that spinach artichoke dip, a lovely addition to any party, had artichoke in it (yeah, I know….) I realized that maybe I did like them after all and when I saw this recipe, I decided this would be the test.


sauteed artichokes

As it turns out, artichokes are mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed. They are especially tasty when cooked alongside potatoes. According to Wikipedia, hash is often a mixture of beef, onions, potatoes and spices that are cooked either alone or with other ingredients. Think corned beef hash. I tend to refer to hash as anything involving small pieces of potatoes and other ingredients, and apparently Bon Appetit does too. I wonder what the Food Lovers’ Companion would say? I forgot to look when I was at home…
What really made this dish though – strangely enough – was the aioli. The recipe uses Aleppo pepper, which is a medium-heat pepper from Syria. Whole Foods didn’t have it, and although I was up and at it early, I wasn’t in the mood for spice shopping, so I substituted a mixture of sweet paprika and cayenne in a 4:1 ratio. Don’t know if it tastes like Aleppo pepper, but it’s good nonetheless, and that’s what the Internet told me to do. And with it rubbed on the flank steak with thyme, it makes for a really scrumptuous flavorful dish. One of those dishes where all the flavors tie in together – the thyme in the hash and on the steak, aleppo pepper in aioli and rubbed on the steak, etc. But the aioli – what a tasty treat. It sounds fancy, but it’s really just mayo and garlic, plus anything else you add. Simple. And good. So damn good.

Go whip this up. And don’t be afraid of the artichokes, like I was. They are pretty wussy and don’t make all the fuss you hear about. Promise 🙂


Flank Steak w/ Artichoke Potato Hash & Aleppo Pepper AioliAdapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009; Serves 4-6


printable recipe

ingredients
Aioli

2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 t Aleppo pepper (or 4:1 sweet paprika:cayenne pepper)
1/4 t kosher salt
1/2 cup mayo (I used light mayo)
2 T evoo
1 t Sherry wine vinegar

Steak
1 1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 t Aleppo pepper (or substitute above)
1 t kosher salt
1/4 t fresh ground black pepper
1 1.5-2 lb flank steak
1/2 lemon
8 baby artichokes, stems trimmed
1 1/4 pounds unpeeled yellow potatoes
3 T evoo, divided
1/2 c water
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove, minced
2 T heavy cream
1 T peanut or veggie oil
2 T chopped fresh chives (I didn’t have any, used scallions)

instructions
aioli
Mash garlic, Aleppo pepper, salt, pepper in small bowl with back of spoon (or use mortar & pestle if you have one) to form paste. Whisk in evoo, mayo, Sherry vinegar.


steak
Mix thyme, Aleppo pepper, 1 t salt, 1/4 t pepper in small bowl. Rub onto steak and set aside.

Squeeze juice from lemon half into medium bowl of water. Cut 1/2 inch from tops of artichokes. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, break off dark outer leaves until only pale yellow leaves remain. Cut artichokes lengthwise in half; cut each half into 1/2 inch wedges. Place in lemon water to prevent browning.

Place potatoes in heavy large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover; sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil; reduce heat to med-hi and boil until tender, 8-10 min. Drain and transfer to baking sheet until cook enough to handle. Halve or quarter, depending on size.


Drain artichokes; pat to dry then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T olive oil in large skillet over med-hi heat. Add artichokes and saute until browned, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, thyme sprigs, and garlic. Cover skillet and simmer over med heat until artichokes are tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover & boil until liquid evaporates, stirring often, 2-3 mins. Add remaining 1 T olive oil and potatoes; stir to coat. Add cream and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Cook until potatoes are heated through and browned in areas, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Season hash to taste. Let stand at room temp.


Preheat oven to 400. Heat peanut/veggie oil in ovenproof skillet over hi heat. Add stead and cook until bottom is brown, about 2 minutes. Turn steak over; transfer to oven and roast until desired doneness, about 7 mins for med-rare. Transfer to cutting board; tent with foil to keep warm. Let rest 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, rewarm hash gently over medium heat. Stir in chopped chives. Thinly slice steak crosswise. Divide steak and hash among plates. Drizzle aioli over steak.